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Government commissions review into rail air quality standards

The rail minister has launched a review to ensure air quality standards and regulations are fit for purpose, following concerning findings about the air quality on some diesel trains.

Recent research, funded by the government and conducted by the Rail Safety and Standard Board (RSSB), found that air quality levels on some diesel trains were poorer than desired, although within legal workplace limits.

The report found that on-train concentrations of nitrogen dioxide can peak at levels ranging from 1 to 13 times higher than identified next to major central London roads, most frequently occurring when trains are in tunnels or idling in stations.

In response to the publication of this report, the Department for Transport (DfT) has asked the RSSB to publish the full findings and has commissioned a review of all the regulations and standards that currently control air pollution on the rail network, including on-board services and at stations.

yellow and black train in train station

Rail minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, said: ‘The safety of staff and passengers is our absolute priority. While these findings are within limits, I do not believe people should have to accept anything less than the highest levels of air quality. I have asked the industry to immediately conduct further research and explore all engineering modifications and options to rapidly improve air quality on trains and in stations.

‘I have also launched a comprehensive review of the current standards and guidance related to air quality on the rail network. If required, we will not hesitate to strengthen legislation to ensure the highest standards of air quality are met and maintained.’

DfT has also commissioned further research, managed by RSSB, to better understand the scale of the air quality issue on board trains and to identify potential causes and solutions, including measuring air quality levels inside a further 8 train classes in service.

The work forms part of the broader Air Quality Strategic Framework, which details RSSB’s recommended approach for monitoring, modelling and mitigation.

RSSB’s director of sustainable development, George Davies, said: ‘Collectively the rail industry and government have been working with us through the Air Quality Strategic Framework to identify the right monitoring, modelling and mitigation.

‘Our important research is helping us understand the issue in much greater depth enabling the rail industry, government and regulator to take the necessary steps. We look forward to continuing this work and ensuring the rail network plays its part in addressing poor air quality.’

Photo by Tomek Baginski

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